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Countdown to Christmas - Week 12 - Wales

The Mari Lwyd entering a bar as part of Christmas celebrations in Llantrisant; photo by visitwales.com

 

 

 

Y Nadolig (Christmas) celebrations in modern times in Wales are similar to the celebrations in the rest of Great Britain. Several days before Christmas, a small tree (sometimes artificial) is hung with lights, ornaments and trinkets. Paper decorations and streamers often lavishly decorate the rooms of the house. Gifts are exchanged on Christmas Day. The Christmas meal traditionally consists of roast turkey with all the trimmings, a wide array of vegetables, followed by a Christmas pudding with brandy sauce.  BUT . . . it is the older traditions that are the most interesting to me, some of which are still practiced, some of which are making a comeback and one, thankfully, that has fallen by the wayside (for obvious reasons, as you will see). As with all traditions, the same tradition can be different in different parts of the country. I chose my favorite to share here.  

Countdown to Christmas - Week 11 - Vietnam

Laughing Santas in Hanoi; photo courtesy of Crossing Travel

 

 

Christmas in Socialist Republic of Vietnam has had a tumultuous history.  Even though the traditional Vietnamese religions are Buddhism and the Chinese philosophies of Taoism and Confucianism, Christmas is one of the four most important festivals of the Vietnamese year.  The other three religious celebrations include the birthday of Buddha, Tet the Lunar New Year and the Mid-autumn Festival.  During the French rule (1887-1954), many people in French Indochina (as Vietnam was known then) became Christians, mainly Catholics.  After the Vietnam War came to an end in 1975 and a Communist government took over, Christians celebrated Christmas very quietly in their own homes.  But, with economic reforms and more liberal policies in the late 1980’s, Christmas began to be celebrated openly again.  Even though only 8% - 10% of Vietnamese are Christians, Christmas is celebrated by all religions in Vietnam.  Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day (which is NOT a national holiday), is the most important day for parties, socializing and elaborate dinners and is a blend of many religious influences.  

Countdown to Christmas 2016 - Week 10 - Latvia

Ziemassvetki mumming in Latvia; photo courtesy Vienkocu Parks

 

 

 

The Republic of Latvia is one of the three Baltic states in Northern Europe.  Despite the main religion being Christianity, many traditions survive from the ancient pagan celebrations of the Ziemas saulgrieži (winter solstice), the longest night of the year. The people of the Baltics were the last pagans of Europe, until the German crusaders arrived in the 13th century.  Over the centuries the old pagan traditions, characteristic to many Northern European countries, have blended and mixed with the Christian ones and are celebrated during Ziemassvētki, literally meaning winter festival, but also used to denote Christmas.  Since the winter solstice and Christmas happen very close together, the rebirth of the Sun Maiden is celebrated on December 25, along with the birth of the Christ Child. Ziemassvētki is a mix of ethnic, religious and modern traditions all about light coming back into life.

Countdown to Christmas 2016 - Week 9 - Fiji

Photo courtesy of fijiislands.com

 

 

 

The Republic of Fiji is a South Pacific island country located approximately 1,300 miles to the northeast of New Zealand. One of the most economically prosperous countries of the South Pacific region, Fiji has become a favored vacation spot, and is perhaps best known for its year-round tropical weather.  While some parts of the world are celebrating a white Christmas by making snowmen and cooking hot dinners with all the trimmings, Christmas in Fiji is a different experience entirely. The warm and sunny weather means sand rather than snow.  Traditional lovo cooked meats and seafood are prepared all over the island.

Countdown to Christmas 2016 - Week 8 - Luxembourg

Chreschtmaart in Luxembourg City; photo courtesy of visitluxembourg.com

 

 

The Grand-Duche de Luxembourg is a very small independent country in Europe; it is just a little smaller than the U.S. state of Rhode Island. Germany is located to the east, France to the south, and Belgium to the west.  From the beginning of December, streets and store windows in all major cities are richly decorated and lighted.  Large Chrëschtbeemchen (Christmas trees) can be found most public squares.  Outdoor Chrëschtmaart (Christmas markets) can be found throughout the country.  From wooden huts that are set up in town squares, a wide variety of locally produced arts and crafts, such as candles, nutcrackers, Christmas tree decorations and manger scenes, are sold.  Glühwein, a popular spiced wine served hot in special mugs, is a regular part of the menu at Christmas markets all through Europe.  Foods to be purchased may include various soups (with or without Mettwurscht, a local sausage specialty), crepes, fresh bakery goods and Lëtzebuerger Grillwurscht, another type of sausage.  Concerts are given in bandstands and on special stages set up for the Christmas markets. Local bands, brass quartets, string trios, choirs, and soloists all contribute to the holiday atmosphere.  To get an idea of the beauty of the Christmas market in Luxembourg City, check out this short video: Luxembourg Christmas market . (My bags are packed!)

Countdown to Christmas 2016 - Week 7 - Peru

Traditional Peruvian Nativity; photo courtesy of Serrv - Creating Connections

 

 

 

Christmas traditions in Peru date back to 1535 to when the country was pillaged by the Spaniards (although the native Quechuans in the Andes have always maintained a strong cultural identity). Due to the huge Spanish influence, the majority of the population practices Catholicism to this day.  Peru is south of the equator so December is actually the first month of summer.  Since the first day of summer comes just shortly before Christmas, on December 21, Christmas decorations with a snow motif is somewhat peculiar to most people (unless you live in the highlands of the Andes, of course).  This is why the traditional Santa Claus, dressed in heavy red coat, pants, hat and boots  and hat, is not much of a tradition in Peru.  Additionally, the Peruvian government banned Santa Claus in 1972 because they believed that he was a depiction of western capitalism, greed and an anti-Christian myth.

Countdown to Christmas 2016 - Week 6 - Iceland

Jólasveinarnir (Yule Lads) - photo courtesy of Iceland 24

 

In Iceland, Christmas (called Yule or Jól) festivities start at 6 pm on Christmas Eve, December 24th, and last until Twelfth Night (Epiphany, January 6th). In the high north, Christmas is linked to ancient traditions related to the winter solstice, called Yule.  Celebrations took place on a full moon during the time of year when the day was shortest. Not much is known about how the feast was celebrated then except that Icelandic chieftains were in the habit of inviting scores of people to Yule drinking and eating feasts.  Later, Yule was superseded by the celebration of the birth of Christ with the coming of Christianity around 1000 AD.

Countdown to Christmas 2016 - Week 5 - Portugal

 

In Portugal, Christmas is celebrated with festive fun, but since it is a predominantly Catholic country, there is also much solemnity to the holiday.  A family Christmas tradition is setting up the presépio (nativity scene), the representation of Christ's birth in the stable at Bethlehem. While some families keep the creche simple, displaying only the Holy Family, many set up elaborate scenes, including the Three Kings, shepherds and the sheep, angels, other animals, lakes (made with mirrors) and hills (made with stones, moss, and clay).  The materials used to decorate the presépio are traditionally collected by the children.  A few days before Christmas Eve, the Baby Jesus is taken out of the manger.

 

Countdown to Christmas 2016 - Week 4 - Kenya

 

 

Since Kenya is predominantly a Christian country (approximately 82%), the celebration of Christmas is very important. A few days before Christmas, a mass migration of people from the cities and other parts of Kenya is made, back to the villages of their parents’ home in the "upcountry." Family members and relatives all congregate to celebrate.  For many people, this is the only time of the year they have the chance to see their families, so it is a very important time to reconnect.

Countdown to Christmas 2016 - Week 3 - Ukraine

Christmas caroling in Ukraine

 

Even from a very early age, I have always been fascinated with words and languages.  When I was in college, I took several languages, including Russian.  Russian was challenging, especially trying to learn the Cyrillic alphabet and wrap my tongue around and pronouncing words with a string of strangely placed consonants.  But what made the class VERY special was our instructor.  I don’t remember her last name but her first was Natasha and she was from Ukraine, then a part of the Soviet Union.  She was very kind and very understanding with a great sense of humor.  We all loved to listen to her stories of growing up and the family traditions. She and her family had a very hard life but the countryside itself sounded enchanting.  And I’m sure we learned to speak Russian with a Ukrainian accent!  So I have always had a fascination with Ukraine (and am so sad about what is happening there right now).  So, Natasha, wherever you might be right now, you inspired this edition of the Countdown to Christmas.

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